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Fearless 2024 NRL predictions: Blues' revenge, Storm star wins Dally M, Knights miss finals despite Ponga

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Expert
27th February, 2024
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Oh, how I love this time of year. The magical period right before the first round of the NRL season. There’s something truly beautiful in the air, and it brings a smile to the dial of all rugby league tragics.

No, it’s not the ‘hope springs eternal’ attitude of all footy fans, who optimistically – or foolishly – believe their team is headed for a great season. Rather, it’s the knowledge that it must be time for my annual fearless predictions for the season.

I’m not sure who gets more excited about this yearly article, yours truly, or the Roarers eager to pounce upon my bold prognostications with disdain and mockery.

Alas, enough with the over-written intro, it’s time to get into the selections.

1. The Raiders will win the wooden spoon

It’s a fairly competitive field for the dreaded wooden spoon in 2024.

Perennial favourites for rugby league’s least coveted ‘award’, the Tigers, have made some solid strides on and off the field for this season, but are probably a year or two away from seeing the benefits.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 09: West Tigers assistant coach Benji Marshall looks on ahead of the NRL trial match between New Zealand Warriors and Wests Tigers at Mt Smart Stadium on February 09, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Benji Marshall. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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The Bulldogs have adopted a – shall we say, “interesting” – strategy of hoping a bunch of utility players can help lift them out of the doldrums. While lastly, perhaps fittingly, the Dragons are many people’s pick to finish dead last.

Yet I’m going outside these expected three clubs.

Despite making the top eight last year, I think Canberra will seriously struggle in 2024. In Jack Wighton, they’ve lost their leader and best player, and haven’t come even remotely close to replacing him. His departure leaves a big hole; one that will see them spiral all the way down to the bottom of the ladder.

2. The Knights will miss the finals

It’s easy to forget, considering their incredible Kalyn Ponga-inspired run at the backend of 2023, but Newcastle were actually hot garbage for the majority of last season. As such, I’m not even sure how fearless this prediction really is.

The Knights fifth-placed finish on the ladder overshadowed the truth that they sat in 14th spot with seven rounds to go.

Amongst their games in those last seven rounds, they hammered the hapless Bulldogs twice for a combined score of 108-6, dusted the equally pathetic Tigers and Dragons, had a bye, beat a non-finals teams (the Dolphins) by 2 points, and lost to the Warriors by 30. So beware the fool’s gold of that eventual ladder finish.

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I don’t doubt Ponga’s genius and his ability to lift a team all by himself, but he’s also another head knock away from an extended time on the sidelines, and that’s what would keep me up at night if I was a Novocastrian, because no Ponga equals no chances for the Knights.

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)[/caption]

4. The NSW Blues will win State of Origin

Queensland have won three of the last four series, have a mortgage on Origin passion, invented rugby league, and have the greatest coach in the history of all sports. So please don’t tell me they’ll be underdogs once again this year.

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Seriously, how can Maroons and their fans claim underdog status at the start of every series, then by the conclusion, declare NSW will never win because they don’t “get” Origin? Actually, I already know how. It’s because they truly believe the latter. Often belief is all you need in life.

Sadly, I’m not sure NSW do ‘get’ Origin. Which makes this prediction truly fearless. Or stupid.

Either way, I’m picking the Blues to win. Perhaps even in a clean sweep…

5. Harry Grant will win the Dally M

It’s always a risky selection choosing a player to win the Dally M Medal when he has constant competition for points from within his own club.

With superstar Cameron Munster in the halves, and the return of Ryan Papenhuyzen from injury, the Storm are not short of players that poll strongly on the final leaderboard for the NRL’s highest individual honour.

Be that as it may, Grant is an extremely influential and electrifying player, and seeming as he plays hooker, getting his hands on the ball won’t be an issue; something that often harms other great players’ chances of taking home this particular piece of hardware.

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Bonus Ladder Prediction

1. Broncos
2. Warriors
3. Panthers
4. Storm
5. Rabbitohs
6. Roosters
7. Cowboys
8. Sharks

9. Sea Eagles
10. Titans
11. Eels
12. Knights
13. Dolphins
14. Bulldogs
15. Dragons
16. Tigers
17. Raiders

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